Strategies for Coping with Aging Parents & Caregiver Burnout

Health & Wellness
Frustrated woman with hand on forehead

Posted: June 24, 2020

If you are one of the millions of Americans taking care of an aging parent, family member, or a spouse who requires daily care, you are at risk of developing caregiver burnout. This very real condition is defined as a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress. Healthcare professionals do not take this lightly—and neither should you.

The more you know about caregiver burnout, the better you can protect yourself.

Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is all too common. In a survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute, 40 percent of caretakers felt emotionally stressed and about 20 percent felt physically strained.

There are warning signs before burnout occurs. Being aware of and watching for them should signal that it’s time to take steps to combat the stress you are under. Some signs to you may be experiencing caregiver burnout include:

  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Avoiding people
  • Losing interest in the things you normally like to do
  • Neglecting your own needs, including your health
  • Feeling like you have no control over your life
  • Having a short fuse
  • Gaining or losing weight because you have drastically changed your eating habits
  • Getting sick because your resistance is down

When One Spouse Is Caring for the Other

When you find yourself caring for a spouse with an illness and your daily life has become much more difficult than you ever imagined, it can be an incredibly lonely time. Social activities decrease, and friends are often lost for spouse caregivers. The tasks of caregiving take over any free time that may have once been available. Loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Spousal caregivers often feel torn between caring for themselves or their partner. Many feel guilty for doing too little or too much. Some caregivers are unhappy with this unexpected role, and those feelings are valid. Caregiving can also take a toll on physical health.

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The Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation is a term given to those who are taking care of their children who are too young to care for themselves—as well an aging parent or relative. Coping with aging parents is difficult alone, but with the responsibility of providing care for multiple individuals of varying ages weighing on their shoulders, these people—usually middle-aged adults—can feel stressed, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated. All leading indicators of caregiver burnout.

Often these caregivers have jobs outside of the home, and many feel forced to sacrifice their career to manage caregiving duties. This not only can lead to financial problems, but the transition to full-time “caregiver” can be a frustrating and difficult one.

Ways to Cope with Aging Parents & Caregiver Burnout

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it all. Ask family and friends to help with some of your caretaking tasks. You should also seek support from those close to you or a support group so you can process your feelings and emotions. Don’t be afraid to say no if saying yes means taking on more than you can handle.

Make sure you take regular breaks; these are necessary to help relieve stress, restore your energy and most importantly, prevent caregiver burnout. Social activities are important, so don’t feel guilty for continuing to do the things you enjoy that can get you away from the daily routine and setting of caregiving.

If you don’t take care of your own health, you cannot take care of someone else. Don’t put off doctor appointments for preventive care. Get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet. Exercise regularly to relieve stress, increase energy, and take time for yourself. Regular exercise can also boost your mood and help keep depression at bay.

Take family leave, if possible, from your full-time job. Removing the stress of work can reduce your responsibilities and free up more time for yourself.

Consider respite care for a few hours or even a few weeks if you start to feel stressed. When you need a few hours or a day for yourself, in-home services, such as a home health aide or an adult day center, can take care of your loved one. A residential care facility provides overnight care if you need a longer break.

How to Know When It Is Time for Assistance

When the time comes that it is no longer feasible for you to continue as caregiver, it might be time to talk with your older loved one about moving to a senior living community.

Many adult children have mixed feelings about suggesting a senior living community to their parents, and some even feel guilty about it. There are many advantages to senior living most don’t consider. These communities are not only safer for older people because trained medical professionals are close by, but there is plenty to do to keep bodies and minds active. Many older adults don’t eat as well as they should, but with a senior living community, nutritious meals are provided.

You can do much of the legwork in finding the right place for your loved one, including virtual tours, talking with friends who may be living in a senior community, and checking out the options that will be best suited for your elderly loved one or parent.
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